May I congratulate the Department on its foresight in supporting the local campaign to reuse the Standish hospital site in my constituency? It would appear that in January we are to get the good news that the site will be transferred back to the PCT, and we look forward to the development of a fully integrated care setting there. There have been two obstacles to the campaign’s progress: my hon. Friend the Minister will know about the security issues with the site, but I am pleased to say that the listing of block C seems to have been sorted out. Will he ensure that this wonderful proposal sees the light of day, and will he give every support to the PCT so that it can see it through?
Yes, and let me commend my hon. Friend for his active interest in this matter. He is right to point out that the two remaining blockages to progress have been removed: the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has decided not to list block C—having visited the site with my hon. Friend, I believe that that is a very sensible decision. In addition, problems to do with security and vandalism have been sorted out, and I look forward to an announcement that he will be pleased with being made in January.
I recently chaired a seminar on Lyme disease in Westminster Hall, and two things became clear—that diagnoses of people suffering from Lyme disease are on the increase, and that sufferers are beginning to encounter the same scepticism that people with other chronic fatigue syndromes such as ME have been subject to. Will the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen), address that matter? What instructions can she give to GPs to ensure that they treat more seriously the symptoms of long-term sufferers from Lyme disease?
May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the work that he is doing on Lyme disease, and indeed other hon. Members who have shown an interest in that relatively new disease? Guidance on the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease is provided to general practitioners and other clinicians by the Health Protection Agency and is published on its website.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing to my attention, and the attention of the House, the excellent work done by Cheshire and the Wirral, and the scheme involving Airbus, which she identified as working very well. She is quite right; there are issues to do with mental health and employment that need to be addressed. She will know that we launched a consultation on the subject earlier this year, and a report on the issue is due in the spring. Dame Carol Black is chairing a steering group that is looking into how mental health provision can be better tailored and integrated to help people to find, stay in or return to work. I will certainly draw to the steering group’s attention the excellent work that my hon. Friend describes in her constituency.
No, we do not accept what the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell) says. I am afraid that it is the responsibility of his local primary care trust and GPs to manage the system efficiently and competently, as most primary care trusts and GPs across the country do, to the great benefit of their patients.
Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirm that the introduction of GP-led health centres will improve access to GP and primary care services, 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and that such health centres do not threaten well-run, easily accessible village surgeries?
I shall be very pleased to confirm that. Indeed, Bradford—not too far from my right hon. Friend’s constituency—had the very first GP-led health centre, which I opened on 28 November. There, we found that people can drop in at any time. They are guaranteed not to wait more than half an hour, even if they have not got an appointment. The contract was given to a fabulous social enterprise formed by GPs in the area who are doing excellent work throughout Yorkshire. Such health centres are about improving access and increasing the capacity of primary care, so it remains totally mystifying why the Conservative party opposes those new services.
Hospitals should know what to do in that position. This is not a new problem—as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, it happens regularly at this time of year—and our latest understanding from the Health Protection Agency is that it is less bad this year than in previous years. However, it is important that hospitals take swift and immediate action and it is important, too, that people, not least hon. Members in the House, should not spread undue alarm by, for example, comparing this to health care-associated infections, the implications of which can be fatal.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have halved MRSA bloodstream infections across England, hitting our target, and we are making excellent progress towards the 2010-11 target to reduce C. difficile infections by 30 per cent. However, we must continue to drive that forward and drive home the message, not just with health professionals but with the public at large, and I am extremely happy that all our people are working all the time to make sure that that happens.
The operating framework that we issued this year has been well received in the NHS. We have ensured that instead of trying to prioritise everything, and thus prioritising nothing, we have focused attention on health care acquired-infections, which are a huge issue for older people, particularly the over-65s; on dementia; and on greater patient involvement. Those priorities all apply to older people. The dementia strategy, which we will shortly publish, is of particular benefit to older people, as is the debate on the reform of adult social care which, although not restricted to the over-65s, is very much the focus of that report.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. What happened with Horton hospital was verification of the process, and the independent reconfiguration panel made those decisions on the basis of the clinical argument. I should be glad to visit the hospital, but I do not believe that I have ever received an invitation. Usually, I depend on an invitation before I pop up, so it would be nice to receive one.
We are committed to improving diabetes care for children and young people, including the way in which the condition is managed in schools. The national clinical directors for children and for diabetes are working together to look at how to support the NHS to improve the way it cares for children with diabetes and other long-term conditions.
The Secretary of State will know that the NHS Information Centre provided to 10 Downing street information from hospitals about people presenting with knife wounds—data that were unpublished, not yet validated and incomplete. That was done on the basis that the information would not be used publicly in that form. Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether he knew about 10 Downing street’s intention to use those data and, whether he did or not, what steps he personally is taking to make sure that NHS data are not used for partisan purposes in that way?
There is, of course, huge sympathy across the House for individuals and families affected by thalidomide. My hon. Friend will know that a private compensation settlement was arranged many years ago—this is the 50th year, I think, since the tragedy occurred. In addition to the annual payments to victims, those affected by thalidomide will continue to benefit from ongoing improvements to health and social care in the circumstances that he describes, particularly the developments that we are introducing to help people with disabilities to get better social care. There have been substantial increases in the level of funding provided for health and social care services in recent years, and thalidomide survivors and their families will benefit from those services over the years ahead.
On the hon. Gentleman’s final point, I understand that the independent reconfiguration panel is considering the matter. On alcohol issues, the hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. The number of admissions as a result of alcohol is increasing. If one looks at the reduction in premature deaths from heart disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease against the increasing trend in diseases caused by too much alcohol, one realises there is a very real public message to get across. That is one of the reasons why, the week before last, the Home Secretary announced that she was taking measures to ban the promotions that lead to a large consumption of alcohol in a very short time such as “women drink free” and happy hours on which there will be restrictions. We need to look much more closely at how we introduce other public health messages so that people are aware that consuming too much alcohol is a real and dangerous health risk.